Raise a dragon, run a cafe and cook up a storm

Little Dragons Cafe has an unusual premise - run a cafe while raising a baby dragon at the same time.

It is the brainchild of Yasuhiro Wada, best known for his popular Harvest Moon series of farm simulator games.

You play as one-half of a pair of twins, whose part-human, part-dragon mother has fallen ill because "her dragon blood is not syncing with her human blood". That is what your young character is told by a mysterious old wizard who conveniently appears out of thin air.

He claims that raising a baby dragon will cure her. Of course, you and your twin will also have to run your mother's cafe; otherwise, how else are you going to support yourselves?

If this premise sounds ludicrous, the actual gameplay is generally similar to the Harvest Moon series. You have to gather ingredients for the cafe's menu from the surroundings, piece together recipe fragments found via exploration and then cook up a storm in the kitchen.

Your dragon is not much of a helper at the beginning. But as it grows larger, it can do more tasks, such as destroying obstacles that keep you from new recipes and gathering points.

Eventually, it gets big enough to fly, which unlocks even more areas for you to explore.

  • RATING: 7/10

  • PRICE: $72.90 (PS4, version tested; Switch)

    GENRE: Management simulator

Feeding the dragon with different types of dishes can change its colour as well as produce dragon manure, which can be used to fertilise gathering points, such as trees and ponds, so as to acquire higher-grade ingredients.

But there is much less to micro-manage than a typical farming simulator.

You soon recruit an interesting cast of helpers, including an orc chef who does most of the cooking for cafe customers. Occasionally, the helpers need to be reminded not to slack off but, mostly, you interact with them to unlock new recipes and boost their morale.

These helpers play an important role in fleshing out the story. Up to 10 characters visit the cafe, each with his or her own emotional baggage that touches on surprisingly serious topics like racism and depression.

These vignettes form the heart of the game, while the gameplay, despite its charming moments, is mere busywork that keeps the clock ticking until the next guest arrives.

In fact, the only remotely challenging thing is the rhythm mini-game that appears when cooking a dish. Hitting the correct notes at the right time affects the quality of the dish. It is relatively easy, as I could get a perfect score nine out of 10 times.

The low stakes mean that Little Dragons Cafe is a relaxing, meandering game interspersed with episodes of drama. Coupled with its whimsy animation that looks almost hand-drawn, it will probably appeal most to younger children.

The game, though, can be frustrating. My character often bumped into unseen obstacles or got stuck around a corner. And for a simple game, it has too many loading screens.

• Verdict: Little Dragons Cafe has its charms, with interesting stories to tell, but it is too shallow as an exploration and simulation game.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Raise a dragon, run a cafe and cook up a storm'. Print Edition | Subscribe